Before having her baby girl, Angela was relatively happy. After giving birth, something changed. Yes, she suffered through sleep deprivation like all new parents do, but she also felt anxiety-ridden and overwhelmed.
"I felt a sense of hopelessness and feared not being able to provide for my daughter properly," Angela said. "I always wanted someone around because I felt I couldn't handle her."
Angela is not alone. An estimated 60 percent to 80 percent of new mothers battle the so-called "baby blues," which includes hormonally-triggered crying, irritability and restlessness. One in five women experience clinically diagnosable postpartum depression.
Thankfully for Angela and her husband, help was within reach. The couple turned to trusted and reliable family members to help with the baby between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. so they could get some much needed sleep. Angela -- who asked that she be identified only by her first name to protect her privacy -- also found solace within a very compassionate support group made up of new mothers.
"Being able to connect with other moms who were going through the same thing was key," she said.
Sometimes a circle of nodding heads is all you need to not feel alone.
- Julie Wright, marriage and family therapist
You're Not Alone
Julie Wright knows all about mild bouts of the baby blues as well as severe cases of postpartum depression and psychosis. Wright is a Culver City, California-based marriage and family therapist with nearly a decade of experience. She also leads support groups at The Pump Station, a breastfeeding resource center in Los Angeles.
"The range of emotions all new moms face should be looked at like a gas gauge or a continuum," Wright said. "There's postpartum depression, but there is also a very normal and expected amount of anxiety, fatigue and sadness all new moms experience to some extent. It's up to us to remove the stigma surrounding those feelings."
Wright said our male-centric society perpetuates certain myths about motherhood. That the new mom should feel happy is one of them. Wright doesn't agree.
"Becoming a new mother is a difficult time, especially in a world that has become more isolated," Wright said. "We're meant to be in tribes and clans. We need each other and new moms can help other new moms know that it's OK not to feel happy all the time. Sometimes a circle of nodding heads is all you need to not feel alone."
Work at Rest and Relaxation
Ida Reid is a postpartum doula, a woman who helps other women through the experience of childbirth and sometimes offers continuing assistance to the family thereafter. One of her jobs is staying up to take care of babies while their moms and dads sleep.
"Sleep can solve so many problems when you're a new mom," said Reid, who is based in Los Angeles. "Even if you don't have a postpartum doula, ask friends and family for help. When you get enough sleep, you can be stronger for yourself and your baby because you're rested and thinking more clearly."
Reid and Wright also highly recommend getting out of the house. New moms who step outside don't feel isolated, and they get the added bonus of exercise and fresh air.
"You can either go outside by yourself or wear your baby (in a holder or sling), but get outside," Reid said. "It helps to get out of that zone you might be in."
Reid said one of her clients would go out and sit on the front porch and eat popsicles while breastfeeding.
"She would pretend she was on the beach with a fruity drink and it made her feel better," Reid said.
The point is that even as a new mom with new responsibilities, you still have to take time for yourself. Going out and getting manicures and pedicures is great, but then again, so is taking long showers and putting on clean clothes.
"When you have a baby, it's so easy to not feel like yourself. It's like an alien has taken over your body," Wright said. "One of the ways to feel like yourself is to take care of yourself."
Seeking Professional Help
Heather remembers her postpartum depression all too well. She felt alone, angry, and even contemplated suicide after having her second child. When she hit rock bottom, she found an understanding psychiatrist who listened intently and prescribed a safe and effective combination of medication.
"Sometimes it's almost better if you have a broken leg because people can see that something is wrong with you," said Heather, who requested that she be identified by only her first name. "When you have mental challenges because of imbalances in your body, people are like 'What the hell is wrong with you?'"
Because of a history of mental illness in her family, Heather knew she was at risk for postpartum depression. But if you're not sure, and it doesn't run in your family, take a look at the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a 10-item test that helps new moms figure out if they have postpartum depression.
The scale is available on the website Psychology Tools, which also provides a "Score my Answers" link.
"If you do have postpartum depression, the best thing you can do is get the right psychiatrist," Reid said.